PROSPECT — Federal forest managers are turning their eyes on a large swath of public land north of Prospect for an ambitious series of forest restoration projects aimed at reducing wildfire risk, improving stream and wildlife habitat and improving forest health.
The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is proposing to thin more than 25,000 acres of timber stands and introduce prescribed fire to 10,560 acres to reduce future wildfire risks and intensities, according to the forest.
This so-called Stella Landscape Restoration Project also includes plans to restore streamside riparian zones, aspen meadows and areas around legacy pines.
It also proposed to decommission or downgrade more than 120 miles of logging roads in an area environmentalists once used as the poster child for fragmented forest habitat.
Almost three years in the making, this proposed planning area looks to reverse years of suppressing wildfires without significant restoration, said Anne Trapanese, the forest’s environmental coordinator.
“We’re trying to increase the pace and scale of restoration,” Trapanese said. “We’re trying to restore the landscape to a more resilient condition and reduce fire danger on this landscape.”
The project area, named for Stella Mountain, covers about 61,000 acres in Jackson County and another almost 4,000 acres of Umpqua National Forest land in Douglas County.
At first blush, the project is getting passing marks from conservation groups interested in wildfire reduction that steers away from older stands and instead targets previously logged areas.
“They’re wanting to get some fire on the ground and that’s something we see as absolutely necessary to make sure those treatments work,” said Joseph Vaile, executive director of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.
Vaile said he was encouraged to see plans to thin 2,687 acres of previously logged and replanted “plantations,” which studies show can burn more intensely than older stands.
The project currently is in its scoping phase and the forest has opened a 30-day public comment period on the proposal. Trapanese is planning a public field trip at 9 a.m. June 6. Those interested in joining should telephone Trapanese at 541-560-3433 or email her at email@example.com.
After drafting possible alternatives and more rounds of public comment, a final decision is expected in spring 2020, Trapanese said. As initially drafted, the projects could stretch out more than a decade, she said.
The area contains a wide mix of natural habitats, including Ponderosa pine flats, slopes of mixed conifers and even the federally designated Scenic Section of the Wild and Scenic Upper Rogue River, which runs from Crater Lake National Park to the forest boundary near Prospect.
Some of the projects include curbing back fast-growing firs and other conifers encroaching on hardwoods areas, including aspen meadows.
The plan also calls for 42 miles of stream restoration and the replacement of 15 stream culverts under bridges.
The proposal calls for the decommissioning of 40 miles of old logging roads, including some defacto closed roads that remain on the books as technically open.
Plans also include reclassifying 64 miles of largely four-wheel-drive roads as closed to the regular driving public but opened for off-highway vehicles and administrative purposes such as fighting fires.
Trapanese likened this reclassification to putting the roads in storage for possible reopening in the future should the need arise.
“That area has a lot of roads and the bottom line is, we can’t afford that amount of roads,” Trapanese said. “They’re expensive to maintain.
“We’re trying to come up with a more sustainable road system,” she said.
The forest also has proposed the construction of 15 miles of temporary roads and increased maintenance on nine more miles of roadway.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.